Cooperative gameplay has returned as a big selling point in recent years. Whether it's Command and Conquer 3, Gears of War, or Left 4 Dead, people like playing together and they like working together against the AI to complete the game. However while everything from FPS to RTS titles has received that second player addition, one genre that's often overlooked for COOP is survival horror.
EA Games recently announced that COOP had been added to the third Dead Space game, not necessarily because it thought it would be a cool gameplay feature, but because the game was too scary to play by yourself. The publishing giant came up with this conclusion because despite the first two Dead Space games being praised by gamers and critics, they only sold less than three million copies between them.
It's likely this applies to other horror games too, potentially more so with ones that are true survival horror. Take Amnesia: Dark Descent, where players can only defend themselves by running away or hiding. If people struggled to buy or make it through Dead Space where they have guns and armour, Amnesia most likely proved even more challenging.
I know it certainly did for me. I barely made it 40 minutes in. The same with the earlier Penumbra games, the first few Resident Evils, Alone in the Dark 3, Silent Hill – I've never been able to finish a horror game that left me feeling helpless. Fear I made it through ok, Doom 3 I did, but start taking away my ammo, make me run too much? I probably won't be able to make it though it.
While I know this isn't the case for everyone, I can't be the only one that gets so engrossed that they can't deal with the adrenaline shot. No one else felt like they're going to have a heart attack at the scarier moments in a game?
Call me a noob or chicken, that's fine. I'd prefer to say that I just get really immersed when I play games. Either way, with the sales figures of Dead Space showing us that not that many people play these sorts of games, we know that they're a bit niche.
But they shouldn't be. These are some of the most evocative games in existence. I can take the best, most exhilarating shooters, or most mind bending puzzlers and put them right there next to Amnesia: Dark Descent in terms of the strength of its impact upon me. I didn't feel like a badass, I felt scared out of my skin and that's amazing because I'm just staring at a 24” screen, holding a mouse and keyboard.
The answer to the dilemma is I think, the one that EA is taking with the next Dead Space: adding a second player. While it could be argued that this will dial back the fear a little, I don't think it will make it less scary or tense; it just makes that terror bearable. It means you're facing your potential death with a friend and that makes it possible to deal with.
Some would argue that this removes the fear of isolation. It would be hard to disagree with that point, but how about making the players separate at a point in the game. Even if they're talking over VOIP during the experience, being forced apart in-game having come to rely on your partner, would perhaps be even scarier than playing the whole thing by yourself.
Then there's the potential for new gameplay mechanics. You could have one player use themselves as bait to draw an enemy away, or implement puzzles based around two players or even have one player need to sacrifice themselves to save the other at the end of the game. How about that for a dramatic finish? Needing to decide which one of you faces the game over screen while their pal makes it safety and the end cut scene. Hell, have the second player turn on the first half way through the game.
All of these things are possible once another player is introduced. Survival horror needs Coop to become the popular genre it deserves to be. Ironically it's the effectiveness of some of its games that make it so difficult to get into and experience fully, but that can be fixed if we can play with friends. Give me a pal to face the demons and zombies with. Guns or not, I want someone to hold my hand as I try and keep my heart from stopping with fear.
Who's with me?